Climate Change as Interdisciplinary Study

Having mentioned several traditional academic disciplines, it is important to note that most of the climate change efforts at Tufts are interdisciplinary at some level. Although Tufts values and nurtures interdisciplinary work, it has to be acknowledged that a variety of challenges remain. Some courses with climate change content are cross-listed in more than one school or department. One course is cross-listed in three schools (Engineering, Arts and Sciences, and Law and Diplomacy). This offers a fabulous opportunity for very different kinds of students to meet one another and grapple with the same material from a variety of perspectives. At the same time, students and faculty can face challenges with these arrangements related to scheduling, calendars, background knowledge, and expectations.

For courses that are cotaught by faculty in different disciplines, discussions with department chairs may be needed to emphasize the value of the course to each department. A climate change development initiative for faculty can have enormous value in acting as a catalyst for interdisciplinary collaboration on campus. If the development initiative is valued by top decision makers, it may help break down institutional barriers to interdisciplinary teaching and research.

Some climate-related courses or course modules that lend themselves particularly well to interdisciplinary approaches include systems analysis and system dynamics, scenario projections of climate, economics and climate change, impacts on ecosystems and the economy, modeling of complex systems, complex multiparty negotiations, and ethics and values.

Table 11.1

Making the climate connection within disciplines

Discipline Examples

Political science Economics

Policy and planning

International relations Engineering


Public health

Sociology Literature


Geology Art


Biology Epidemiology

Subnational initiatives for emission reduction, positions of political parties, grassroots actions, vested interests

Costs and benefits of emission reduction alternatives for campus action, assessment of competing economic models of climate change and their underlying assumptions

Community resilience, future-growth planning informed by adaptation, precautionary principle, natural-disaster response planning, infrastructure planning

Equity assessment of Kyoto Protocol and alternative international regimes, UN, IPCC

Data collection and analysis, development of renewable energy, application of climate models to regions and subregions, assessment of climate change implications for regional infrastructure, life-cycle assessment of biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel How people understand climate change; variations in understanding across national boundaries Response to extreme weather events, water supply protection

Culture of consumption; social movements

Future scenarios, nonfiction accounts of people and places

Analysis of data sets related to climate change (e.g., atmospheric carbon dioxide, emissions, weather patterns.)

Melting glaciers and permafrost, ice-albedo feedback Public art projects designed to inspire inquiry and action, including photographic images of extreme weather

Intergenerational issues, equity issues, moral implications of our current actions, individual and group responsibility

Migration of plant, animal, and insect species, carbon dioxide sequestration

Changing patterns of tropical diseases, West Nile virus, eastern equine encephalitis

Continue reading here: The Intersection of Academics and Operations

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